Wednesday, November 20, 2019

PURA Pulls The Plug

Juliana Simone
Voltaire, one of Thomas Jefferson’s heroes who was driven from country to country by the victims of his stinging wit, thought that if states wanted to take a proper measure of freedom of expression, they should ask what cannot be said. Many are the ways of clipping freedom of speech.

The modern world offers unique possibilities. Connecticut's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) does not paste gags over the mouths of its victims or lay them on racks, pre-enlightenment methods much too crude for modern, refined sensibilities. But there is a small, valiant number of contrarians in Connecticut who believe that PURA has not been responsive to their justifiable pleas.

One of them is Chairman of the Barkhamsted Republican Town Committee Juliana Simone – obviously a Republican and as obviously conservative-leaning. Simone has been the Host/Producer of "Conservative Chat", operating undisturbed out of a studio in Winsted, Connecticut for 14 years. Some notable guests she has interviewed over the years include: former Republican congressmen Rob Simmons and Chris Shays; economist Peter Shiff, when he was running for the U.S. Senate; U.S. Congressional candidates such as Matt Corey, Dan Carter, and Brian Hill; First and Fifth District congressional candidates Mark Greenberg, John Decker and Ann Brickley; Secretary of State candidate Peter Lumaj, as well as many Republican State Senators and State Reps, including Kevin Witkos, Andrew Roraback, Michael McLachlan, John Piscopo, Selim Noujaim, Richard Ferrari, William Simanski, and many others including this political writer.

The Winsted public access studio, which broadcasts to many  strong Republican towns, is closing its doors. Simone, not a fly-by-night political operator with shallow roots in Connecticut, has been told by PURA, the court of last resort in matters such as these, that a final decision to eliminate the studio from which she operates has been made and it is useless to protest.

“You know,” she wrote to me from a wounded sense of deep frustration, “they didn't televise our Republican state convention in full in 2018 for the first time ever that I've been a delegate, and that's been since 2008. I was on stage as a featured candidate in 2006 with Bob Ward. They had always shown the convention in full, at the very least on CT-N. And 2018 was a vital year for our state governor’s race.” The coverage that year was abbreviated.

Unlike Democrats in Connecticut, Republicans have not yet fallen into the progressive vortex. It is no secret that both political power and the means of communication in super-blue  Connecticut lie in the hands of seasoned and very comfortable  Democrats, many of whom sit in the same political pew with Alexandria Occassio Cortes (AOC), the socialist bartender from Queens, New York. Public access television shows like “Conservative Chat,” provide an alternative political voice, and the studio in Winsted also provides necessary informational programming for seniors and others in its service area. Not so long ago, it used to be thought that the principal mandate of good journalism was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It will be far less possible, even for the traditional media, to afflict comfortable Democrats in the state when conservative outlets have been eliminated.

One need not wonder what a disturber of the peace such as Voltaire might make of all this clipping of tongues for the purpose of harvesting votes: “Another long-time PA cable host from Winsted called me and wants all of the hosts to file complaints with PURA, as only one has so far, but [according to a report in the Republican American], Charter's spokeswoman says PURA has already said no to any hearing on their closing of the studio, without waiting for any opposing letters. Unbelievable! This, to me, and I AM going to write about it, and we can talk about it on the show, is purposeful censorship of conservative voices to grassroots viewers and voters pre 2020 election.”

The members of the PURA board, each of whom earn $145,948 in annual salary, are appointed to their posts by the governor of Connecticut, presently toll-friendly Ned Lamont. By statute, the membership of the PURA board “shall consist of three electors of this state, appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of both houses of the General Assembly." The General Assembly has been controlled by Democrats for the last 30 years. PURA’s FY budget is a generous $25,314,215, according to Ballotpedia. And it is no stretch to suppose that PURA’s decisions trickle down to members of the board from Democrat governors and leaders in the Democrat dominated General Assembly who provide PURA’s budget from tax dollars.

So, is PURA, at the behest of the Democrat Governor and  Democrats in the General Assembly, attempting to silence Republican voices in preparation for the upcoming 2020 campaign, as Simone fears? What Voltaire, the champion of free speech, said of books is true of any mode of speech: “It is with books as with the fire in our hearths; we go to a neighbor to get the embers and light it when we return home, pass it on to others, and it belongs to everyone.”

When the fire goes out, all journalists should be discomforted.

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